The Narcotics Control Bureau’s (NCB) October 2 raid aboard a Mumbai-Goa luxury cruise liner and the subsequent arrests of Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan’s son, Aryan Khan and others, have tossed up more questions than answers. The agency claims nexus between the people arrested from the cruise and international drug mafia.
Aryan Khan (23), Munmun Dhamecha (39) and Arbaaz A Merchant (26) were arrested on October 3 and were denied bail on Friday (October 8). Vikrant Chonkar, Mohak Jaswal, Ishmeet Singh Chadha, Gomit Chopra and Nupur Satija too have been arrested in the case.
Ever since the drama started unfolding on October 2, the NCB has not clearly mentioned from whom it seized the drugs initially. Most arrests and seizures made so far have yielded only a small or intermediate quantity of drugs—including a seizure of 2.6 grams of ‘ganja’ from Aachit Kumar—whom the NCB claims is part of a “ganja network”— and who was arrested by the NCB on the basis of Khan’s initial statement and Merchant’s preliminary inquiry. NCP leader Nawab Malik has called the cruise raid “fake” and questioned BJP leaders’ role in the whole drama.
Here are 5 things you should know about the case:
- The NCB doesn’t mention from whom the drugs were recovered initially: The investigating agency has not clearly mentioned from which person(s) it has made the initial seizure of 13 grams of cocaine, 5 gram MD, 21 grams of charas, and 22 pills of MDMA. The entire case so far stems from this initial seizure. Instead, the NCB has said that it prima facie appears “that there is a case of conspiracy and abetment” as far as the initial 8 accused are concerned, and that “they cannot be isolated…as there is prima face material to show that they have been acting in concert.”
In its reply opposing the bail plea of Munmum Dhamecha on Friday, the NCB claimed that all three persons (Aryan Khan, Munmun Dhamecha and Arbaaz A Merchant) are an integral part of a common thread, and stated that in such a situation, the “quantum of recovery from an individual accused becomes inconsequential,” reported LiveLaw. It (the investigating agency) also said that since there had been a seizure of a commercial quantity of contraband, the case of one applicant from whose person nothing was recovered “cannot be considered in isolation” since all the cases are “intertwined” with each other. The Additional Solicitor General (ASG) also said that Whatsapp chats between an alleged supplier (Kumar) and Khan showed that they were not new to using contraband.
However, Dhamecha’s lawyer Advocate Kashif Ali Khan has stated in court that she is “nowhere related and connected” with Khan and Merchant nor does she have any connection with the other five initial accused. “Since the Accused No 1 Mr. Aryan Khan is the son of Bollywood superstar action Shahrukh Khan, the NCB, in order to highlight the matter on not just national but international level, have falsely implicated the present applicant (Dhamecha)…,” read Dhamecha’s bail application filed in the court on Friday, which was later rejected. The application further said that the NCB’s application for criminal remand was “filled with malice and ulterior motives” and that Dhamecha had boarded the ship “without any communication with the other accused.”
2. Mostly small and intermediate quantities of drugs seized: The NCB has time and again claimed in court that there is a “nexus” between the arrested accused and international drug dealers. However, only two people out of the 17 arrested so far in the case have been found with commercial quantity of drugs.
It must be noted that no drugs were found on Khan—he hasn’t even been charged with consumption. Six grams of charas was allegedly recovered from Merchant’s body but that too is in contention now as Merchant’s lawyer has moved an application asking for the CCTV footage of the raid and claimed that nothing was found on his client. “I am shooting myself in the foot if contraband is found,” said Advocate Taraq Sayed, appearing on behalf of Merchant in court on Friday, while questioning the NCB’s competency in investigating the source of six grams of charas.
The ecstasy pills too, were allegedly found on the floor of Dhamecha’s room and not on her person, claims her lawyer Advocate Kashif Ali, but the NCB states that the contraband was found in her “conscious possession.”
After gaining information during the custodial interrogation of accused number 5, Mohak Jaswal, the NCB, on October 4, arrested 30-year-old Abdul Kader Shaikh from Jogeshwari. A total of 2.5 grams of ecstasy and 54.3 grams of Mephedrone (commercial quantity) was seized from him by the investigating agency. This is one of the only sizeable hauls of drugs recovered by the NCB in the last week. Furthermore, on information provided by Shaikh, a foreign national was intercepted with a commercial quantity of Ecstasy on October 6.
In its follow-up raids, based on custodial interrogation of the other accused, the NCB arrested Shreyas Surendra Nair from Goregaon. He was found in possession of two grams of ‘charas’. Another follow-up action resulted in the arrest of Manish Rajgaria—who was arrested with 2.4 grams of ‘ganja’. Lastly, the NCB also arrested Avin Sahu, who accepted that “he is a consumer of ganja and had smoked it twice” during his stay on the said cruise.
3. The curious case of Aachit Kumar: In a follow-up action on October 6, the NCB arrested another person, namely, Aachit Kumar, along with 2.6 grams of ganja. According to the agency, Kumar was named by Khan in his statement as well as during a preliminary inquiry with Merchant. The NCB claims that Kumar is a “supplier of ganja” and that he is a part of a “ganja supply network.” However, no ganja has been recovered from any of the initial eight accused.
Advocate Ashwin Thool, appearing on behalf of Kumar in the court on Thursday, made a case for illegal detainment of his client and said that the “overzealous” officers of the NCB were “lying to this court on the record.” According to him, Kumar was picked up from his house by the NCB on October 5—and not on October 6 as shown by them. Kumar was allegedly in the custody of NCB from October 5-6 but he was allowed to make phone calls to show that there was no arrest, argued Thool in court. “They arrested him on October 5 but didn’t bring him in until October 6,” he said, adding that even the sections imposed on Kumar were “purely of consumption.” Thool said: “They (NCB) have not brought even one material on record to show that I am connected to anyone who has a massive network…they have said I am connected to massive drug lords…it’s good to create a facade.”
4. Private detective KP Gosavi and BJP worker Bhanushali: One of the biggest revelations that came to light in a dramatic press conference held by NCP’s Nawab Malik on Wednesday was that the two people who detained Aryan Khan were Manish Bhanushali, a national vice-president of the BJP, and an investigator by the name of KP Gosavi, who had become the centre of attention after his viral selfie with Aryan Khan. The NCB, at the time, had to come out and specify that Gosavi was not a member of its team. Malik questioned whether the NCB had the authority to allow private citizens to take part in its raids.
In the immediate aftermath of Malik’s press conference, the NCB held one of its own wherein it claimed that Bhanushali and Gosavi were “independent witnesses” in the case. However, according to local police, Gosavi has four cheating cases registered against him in Mumbai, Thane, and Pune.
5. Why is the Union of India so interested in the case? : Aryan Khan’s lawyer Satish Maneshinde asked this question during Khan’s bail hearing in the court on Friday, to which the ASG replied: “The Union of India is interested in all cases. Don’t say that.”
However, it definitely is rare for an ASG to appear in a case for remand. On October 4, the (ASG) had appeared for remand only against Khan, Merchant, and Dhamecha, but when the remand for the other five accused came up, he left it to his junior to pick up the arguments.
Where does the case stand today?
The case is now scheduled to be heard before a Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) court on Monday (October 11) after the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate rejected the bail pleas of Khan, Merchant and Dhamecha on Friday, on the grounds that the pleas were “not maintainable” i.e he did not have the jurisdiction to hear their bail applications. According to Bar and Bench, this means that the magistrate did not examine whether they were entitled to bail or not. During submissions on Friday, the ASG had opposed the bail pleas and argued that the charges against the accused were exclusively triable by a Special NDPS Sessions Court—and not a magisterial court.
On October 2, the Narcotic Control Bureau’s (NCB) zonal director Sameer Wankhede spearheaded a raid at the International Terminal of Mumbai Port Trust, from where a luxury cruise liner was supposed to depart for Goa. The team seized 13 grams of cocaine, 5 grams of Mephedrone (MD), 21 grams of charas, 22 pills of MDMA (Ecstasy) and Rs 1,33,000 cash. Following the recovery of “intermediate and small quantity” of drugs, the NCB detained eight people—all of whom are “connected in the same thread”—and consequently arrested them.
First, the agency issued summons under Section 67 of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS) to 26-year-old Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan, Munmun Dhamecha (39), and Arbaaz A Merchant (26), all three of whom presented themselves before the Investigating Officer (IO) of the case and recorded their statements. The trio was arrested the next day i.e. October 3, by the IO at 2 pm “for their involvement in consumption, sale, purchase, and attempt to commit offense” under sections 8(c) read with Section 20 (b), Section 27, 28, 29 and 35 of the NDPS Act. The investigating agency also moved in to arrest five more people the very same day in connection with their alleged role in the same case, namely, Vikrant Chonkar (32), Mohak Jaswal (28), Ishmeet Singh Chadha (33), Gomit Chopra (28) and Nupur Satija (29).
The NCB has arrested a total of 17 people in connection with the case, which includes 10 guests, four event organizers, two alleged suppliers, and one consumer. On Friday (October 8), a day after Additional Metropolitan Magistrate RM Nilekar rejected the NCB’s application for further custody of the eight accused and sent them to judicial custody instead, the court rejected bail applications filed by Khan, Merchant, and Dhamecha stating that their pleas are “not maintainable.”